"Practical politics," wrote Henry Adams, "consists of ignoring the facts." By that standard, the current debate over spending reductions and tax reform has evolved--or degenerated--into the kind of practical discussion only Washington, D.C., would love. The facts are these: that without the Finance Committee package of $98.3 billion in more revenue and $17 billion in less spending, we could pile up $600 billion in federal red ink over the next three years. If practical politicians don't drown in that ocean of debt, a great many small businessmen, consumers and jobholders could. To avoid the avoidable, the Finance Committee and the U.S. Senate have bitten the bullet and passed a series of measures designed to close part of the gap between revenues and expenditures. This was done in response to the budget resolution Congress adopted, slashing $378 billion from the projected debt. President Reagan strongly endorsed that bipartisan action because he knew it was necessary.
Some other facts are being ignored with gusto, especially by those who bring up the heavy artillery of rhetorical outrage and fire off that most ominous of accusations: "Bob Dole has turned liberal."
I am not a liberal, certainly not in the modern and twisted sense of a term that has come to mean anything but the classic 19th century liberal's devotion to individual liberty. If you want some factual evidence of this, I suggest you take a look at Congressional Quarterly. Its survey of Republican Party unity during the first half of this 97th Congress gave me a 94 percent rating-- the highest in the Senate. On support of President Reagan, my CQ rating was 84 percent. And to those who are in the business of applying ideological litmus tests, I would point out that both ratings are considerably higher than the 74 percent for the party and 75 percent for the president racked up by Rep. Jack Kemp, whose leadership of House opposition to the tax reform measures backed by the president will presumably lower his CQ scores for this session, if not the size of the deficit.
I was raised to consider a liberal as one who had both feet firmly planted in mid-air. And by that measurement, I wonder if my accusers aren't pointing their fingers in the wrong direction. The fact is that we Republicans have a responsibility to lead, to legislate effectively and to keep the public interest always before us as our ultimate objective. We live up to that responsibility by confronting problems squarely, by standing firmly on our principles and by reaching out through compromise and consensus to forge a partnership with those presumably "nonpractical" politicians who do not ignore the facts. No one understands this better than our House Republican leaders, who have written a record of remarkable successes in attracting like-minded Democrats who share our commitment to lower deficits, a less intrusive government and an economy no longer blocked from advance by stubbornly high interest rates.
We could not have achieved so much over the past 18 months were it not for their efforts to build a bipartisan coalition in support of the president's program. Already, we are beginning to see the first streaks of dawn in an economic recovery that will gain momentum as interest rates decline. So how do you nudge the prime below 15 percent? You take a page out of the president's own book.
You don't need me to tell you how much Ronald Reagan dislikes taxes. He has said himself that it took a lot of hard swallowing to accept the deficit-reduction package voted out by the Finance Committee. But this president is a leader--not a "practical politician." He will not ignore the facts, and neither should any Republican, or any conservative, who cares about igniting long-term prosperity in this country.
Some have said that our efforts to cut the deficit and interest rates have gotten us in league with the devil. Let's hope our belief in coalitions has not led us that far down the path of unorthodoxy. Ironically, those who say that I've deserted my principles (which must make me a liberal-come-lately) hail for the most part from a part of the political spectrum where I've always felt at home. In principle, they too want less spending, lower taxes, a smaller deficit. But their principles have yet to be translated into numbers on a ledger. Their interpretation of the Finance Committee action is, I'm afraid, a compound of errors and no facts.
Last year, the Senate Finance Committee reported out the largest tax cut in U.S. history, along with $1 billion more in spending cuts than those mandated by our original reconciliation instruction. We repeated the feat this year, again slicing the budget beyond the Senate's demand. No one need tell us that federal spending is a problem, nor worry about our continuing commitment to reduce it. The problem is that it took concerted leadership on the part of the White House and Congress to do as much as we have. Lacking the votes this year to enact only spending cuts, we had to address that fact. We had to look at the revenue side of the picture in a fair and objective way.
In our case, tax reform is not a euphemism. It means revenue-raisers consistent with conservative philosophy and supply-side theory. We have not tampered with the individual tax cuts, nor have we done anything to discourage savings, investment or employment. We ruled that out last year in voting to index the tax system, and we stuck to those principles this year. The reforms we have voted come largely at the expense of corporations and individuals who pay little or no tax, or who have taken unfair advantage of loopholes in the tax code. In truth, we have eliminated some major distortions in investment policy, in line with the supply-side view, and we have adopted a bill that relies on improved collection of largely unreported income for roughly 30 percent of its total revenues.
There have been howls of protest from special interests, but I never defined conservatism as the religion of the propertied few or of those whose voice carries in direct proportion to their wealth. Conservatism in this country has always rested on a foundation of personal initiative, patriotic values and the belief that the old dream of social mobility and a better life for one's children was uniquely American. Conservatives have cared about defending that dream. They have been careful not to weaken the public consensus behind another kind of defense by inadvertently stirring up an angry backlash against military expenditures. Conservatives have cared about working people who shared their values and contributed their toil and talent to building America. Some of the interests so heatedly leveling charges of ideological treason, by contrast, are no great friends of the individual tax cut that is the linchpin of our efforts to restore economic growth and allow working people to keep more of what they work for.
So let's not ignore the facts. We are not making a U-turn; we are merely adjusting the route to keep from going off the road. At a time of genuine distress, we are holding fast to a program we're convinced will alleviate that distress, soon and in the long run. The current debate is not one of conflicting philosophies, but over how to put conservative theory into practice in a way that won't invite popular rejection. If we splinter apart now, or surrender to fragmentation and the ever-present tendency in this town to point a finger or wield a poison pen, then the opportunity handed us in 1980, and realized so magnificently thus far by President Reagan, will go glimmering in a long night of mutual recrimination.
I am not a liberal. Neither am I a lemming.